Who's responsible for Bhutto's death?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 29 2007 6:26 AM

Beyond Bhutto

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times each lead with the Pakistani government announcing it has intelligence linking the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to an Afghan rebel with links to al-Qaida. The government is also claiming Bhutto was killed by hitting her head on the sunroof of her car, not by bullets or shrapnel. Her supporters are deeply skeptical of both claims.

The Washington Post leads with U.S. officials' concerns that unrest in Pakistan will destabilize the region, hampering U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, while the paper fronts the government's intelligence claims. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the chaos surrounding Bhutto's funeral and fronts analysis suggesting that fallout from the assassination could threaten the government of Pakistani Pres. Pervez Musharraf.

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The LAT reports inside that the United States gave Bhutto intelligence on threats to her life weeks prior to her killing. The paper questions whether the United States did enough in its attempts to persuade Musharraf to expand her security team.

The NYT reports on the way different presidential candidates have responded to the events in Pakistan, calling it a test of their foreign-policy skills. The paper says that in an election season where candidates have been especially well scripted, an unforeseen event like this gives voters an unusually frank look at how the candidates might perform in office. For some, like Gov. Bill Richardson, it's a welcome chance to show off foreign-policy chops. For others, like former Gov. Mike Huckabee, it has exposed a serious weakness. But the paper also says that the test may be less about candidates touting their experience and more about showing voters they can lead during a crisis.

The NYT off-leads (and the WP stuffs) President Bush's surprising announcement that he will pocket veto a bill authorizing fiscal 2008 defense spending. Bush is concerned about a provision that would hold the current Iraqi government legally liable for acts committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Congressional Democrats are complaining that the White House failed to mention its objection before the bill was passed. The controversial provision would allow American citizens to sue countries over state-sponsored acts of terrorism, freezing national assets in U.S. banks prior to the trial. The White House says the Iraqi government is worried that if it were liable for acts committed by Hussein, large amounts of Iraqi assets would be frozen, hampering reconstruction efforts. Both papers quote an anonymous White House source, but the NYT piece says, "The White House allowed the official to speak only if not identified." Typically, anonymous sources have their names withheld so their bosses don't know they're talking to reporters. If the White House knew the source was speaking to the press, then why the anonymity? And, more importantly, why would the NYT agree to such a bizarre condition?

The WP fronts a feature on Bush's slowly evolving views on climate change, as part of an ongoing series on his attempts to define his presidential legacy before the end of his term. The paper's take is that after years of downplaying the subject, Bush now wants to make sure he's seen as taking the issue seriously and working to address it, but he still doesn't endorse formal regulation of carbon emissions.

Both the LAT and the WP run pieces on the competition between Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards leading up to next week's Iowa caucus. The LAT says Obama is muscling in on Edwards' populist image, shifting from a campaign theme of bipartisanship to some distinctly working-class Democrat rhetoric. The WP, meanwhile, says the two are vying for the mantle of being the candidate of "change." Built into both those narratives, however, is the assumption that Iowa is going to be a three-way race where Sen. Hillary Clinton's constituency is stable and Edwards and Obama must slug it out for the remaining votes. It reduces a volatile contest down to what one source calls "the race within the race," which is a pretty serious leap, if you ask TP.

If the Obama camp is spouting new firebrand rhetoric, the NYT hasn't heard it. It's still portraying Obama as a natural mediator, a quality it attributes to his being biracial.

The WP also fronts a piece on former Gov. Mitt Romney's latest salvo of attack ads. Romney faces serious challenges from Huckabee in Iowa and Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire, two states where he'd spent a lot of time and money and once appeared to have commanding leads. Inside, the LAT flips the script and reports on McCain's and Huckabee's responses to the Romney ads.

The NYT fronts the latest installment of its series on the pollution troubles that have come with China's rapid economic expansion. This entry focuses on preparations for the 2008 Olympics.

The LAT reports that California's limit on pain and suffering awards in malpractice suits has made lawyers more reluctant to bring cases to trial.

The NYT says Harvard's new financial aid plan might compel less well-endowed schools to shift financial aid funds from low-income to middle-class students.

The WP studies a defense project to reduce the military's environmental impact that has received millions in earmarks and produced very few implemented systems or products.

The NYT finds home sales at a 12-year low.

… That's a Wrap Up …

The NYT wraps up the year in health news. The LAT touts it most popular stories. The WP pimps out its top opinion columns of the year.

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.